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Letter: Artificial Turf: Artificial Safety?

Manhasset is facing a crossroads on an issue that greatly affects the safety of our children. We need to take an enlightened path now, before it’s too late.

Last week, a senior Environmental Protection Agency official recommended that the agency no longer endorse the safety of artificial turf. This major announcement was prompted by preliminary EPA research detailing potential health hazards of exposure to shredded tires in artificial turf, which contain carcinogens and harmful chemicals. The EPA will complete its study in a few weeks.

No matter what the conclusion, it is important to understand that there are many variables involved in studying the safety of artificial turf. Not all tires are created equal. Truck tires, snow tires and everyday car tires all are composed of different kinds and amounts of toxic chemicals. Some are more dangerous than others. The tires haven’t been sorted before they are ground up, so each field and playground where they are used has a different level of exposure depending on what hazardous mix has been spread. So some fields may be more toxic than others depending on the concentration of chemicals in the tires used.

Scientists also haven’t studied enough fields to include an infinite combination of different weather and temperature conditions (especially heat), along with different use exposures (heavy vs. light use) and wear and tear caused by the sport (football, soccer, lacrosse vs. baseball and softball). The combination of these factors affects how the plastic fields wear and thus how chemicals are leached into the surrounding environment, and whether they are more readily absorbed by the children playing there.

In recent years, there have been many studies on the issue, and each one has been hampered by limitations such as these. That’s why each agency that conducts a study is unable to definitively guarantee the safety of our children. Based on the limited information they are able to obtain, they present a limited safety claim. And most importantly, each responsible study states that further testing is necessary.

In our lifetimes, we have seen many products initially deemed safe that have turned out to be harmful after more thorough study. On the turf front, New York City officials recently reversed their previous opinion, and said any new playing fields will no longer use tire crumbs.

Now, it’s Manhasset’s turn. We have two new artificial turf fields being proposed at the high school. They will be available for everyone. So as a community let’s make a healthier choice.

Natural grass would be ideal. But with the heavy use of our fields, artificial turf is preferred by local community groups, which have been generously raising funds for new fields. So when you donate money to these efforts, please make sure you know what you’re paying for.

One Manhasset group is researching a safer alternative called GeoSafePlay (geosafeplay.com). There is no lead in the plastic grass; the infill is made of cork and coconut husks. This would be a giant step toward keeping our children safe. I hope others follow suit.

I also urge the board of education and Superintendent Cardillo to follow what is called the “Precautionary Principle.”  This is a moral and political standard that says if an action might cause harm to the public (in this case, our children) precautionary measures should be taken—even if some cause-and-effect relationships aren’t fully proven scientifically. Common sense dictates we should proceed without further risk to our children: Say no to any more toxic tire turf in Manhasset.

Lisa Manning Siconolfi